West St. Paul City Council meeting

City Council Recap: Feb. 22, 2021

Thanks to CenturyLink for their support.

While the regular agenda for the West St. Paul City Council meeting started out pretty bare, several items were added after discussion during the Open Council Work Session (OCWS). The Council considered charter amendments, expanded committees, named finalists for the city manager position, and moved a development project forward.

Charter Amendments

The City Council considered three amendments to the city’s charter. Already approved by the Charter Commission, these amendments have to be approved unanimously by the Council and mayor to be enacted. They were discussed during the OCWS and then added to the regular Council agenda for a first reading. A public hearing and official vote (which has to be unanimous to pass) will come at a future Council meeting.

  • Mayor’s voting power: The charter requires four votes to pass anything, which can create odd situations when members are absent. It came up a few years ago with a proposal for sidewalks on Marie when one Council member was absent. The vote was 3-2 in favor, but it failed because it needed four votes to pass. If that member was present and voted yes, it would have passed. If they were present and voted no, it’d be a tie and the mayor could break a tie, giving it a chance to pass. This amendment would give the mayor a vote in cases where an absence means majority votes still lose. While this one required lots of explanation during OCWS—notably from Council Member John Justen, prompting Council Member Wendy Berry to quip, “Professor Justen cleared a few things up, I’m in favor,”—the Council approved the first reading unanimously.
  • Eligible votes: Another amendment proposes additional language to clarify eligible votes in the cases of vacancy or conflict of interest abstention. This came up after last year’s Wakota vote when three council members recused themselves. This amendment would codify the city attorney’s current position so there’s no question in the future. This passed unanimously.
  • Expanding Charter Commission: The most controversial of the amendments would add two seats to the Charter Commission, expanding it from 11 to 13 members. Those in favor of expansion pointed to the flood of interest (nine applicants for one seat) and argued for more representation and equity (the current 11-member commission has only three women, two people from ward 1, and only one person of color). Those opposed to expansion argued that in the past the committee has had trouble filling seats and meeting quorum. Council Member Dick Vitelli was the only opposition on City Council, saying that he’s “cemented on this” and won’t budge. The first reading passed 6-1. If Vitelli is indeed decided, this will be the only amendment that doesn’t pass.

Committee Appointment Process

The Council again discussed the committee appointment process after it went off the rails on January 25. The first step to rectifying the problems was expanding the membership of the Environmental Committee and Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee from seven to nine members to accommodate some incumbent members who weren’t reappointed.

The Council also briefly discussed additional changes, including considering reappointments separate from new appointments, adding term limits, not allowing members to serve on more than one committee, and doing away with redacted applications. The process will be further refined by staff and come to Council at a future meeting.

Other Items on the Agenda:

  • History: West St. Paul’s first female majority City Council proclaimed March as Women’s History Month.
  • City manager: The city is looking for a new city manager, and the Council approved four finalists who will be interviewed March 12 and 13. The finalists are:
    • Nate Burkett, assistant city administrator for Shakopee.
    • Mike Darrow, founder of the North Star Group.
    • Nate Ehalt, county administrator for Burnett County, Wisconsin.
    • Jacob Rife, city administrator for Cary, Illinois.
  • Sidewalks: Yay for sidewalk funding! During OCWS the Council discussed the plan for sidewalks along Bidwell, which will narrow the road and lose parking on one side of the street in order to add a sidewalk without ridiculous amounts of retaining wall and property acquisition.
  • Townhome sale: Last month the Council grudgingly went along with a proposal to sell land for townhomes. The development agreement is still being hammered out, but the Economic Development Authority (EDA) held a public hearing for the land sale (no one spoke on the issue).
  • Housing rehab: The EDA expanded a housing rehab loan program after getting zero takers for the low-interest loans last year. The loans are available to any homes in the city north of Butler, targeting the city’s oldest housing stock.
  • Power outages: If you’ve had power issues, Council Member Robyn Gulley noted that Xcel Energy is having a virtual meeting to talk about frequent power outages on Thursday, February 25.

City Council meetings are currently held on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 6:30 p.m. You can also watch these meetings online: EDAOCWS, and regular City Council.

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